Volunteer stories


There are many volunteers making a huge difference in our Knox community. Discover how volunteering has made a big impact on their lives. We hope you find their stories inspiring!
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My advice for anyone wanting to include volunteers in their workplace is to give them a good orientation, make them feel part of the team, recognise their achievements and give them a defined role.

THE HAVEN DAY CENTRE MANAGER KATHY MILLER

The Haven Day Centre in Boronia meets the needs of people living with memory loss by delivering a person centre program in a warm, friendly and inclusive environment where everyone is treated with dignity and respect.

We have received six referrals and appointed an admin volunteer who is wonderful, reliable and committed. She has settled in very quickly to our routine and enjoys interacting with staff and clients at lunch time. We give a good orientation and our admin worker leaves tasks for her to do to keep her busy.

Other applicants have been accepted but then unforeseen things pop up and they don’t have the time to spare or end up in hospital. That is life…and that is ok too.

I think your service is great because you refer volunteers and educate them about their rights and responsibilities to prepare them for future roles. I would not have the time to do it myself. The team are easy to communicate and deal with and I am grateful for all you do for The Haven.

My advice for anyone wanting to include volunteers in their workplace is to give them a good orientation, make them feel part of the team, recognise their achievements and give them a defined role.

We have several volunteers and many have been long term, happy contributors. They provide valuable support to our staff. They also personally get a lot of satisfaction from volunteering.

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Ramona’s message to those thinking about getting involved in volunteering is “having the opportunity to think of someone outside of yourself can set you free from your own anxieties in often uncertain times.”

Ramona THAMBIRATNAM

Knox local Ramona Thambiratnam joined the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) at Melbourne Polytechnic right in the middle of Melbourne’s COVID pandemic/lockdown period in July 2020.

The role required her to support someone from a migrant or refugee background for one hour a week as they learnt English and settled in the community.

The Volunteer Tutor Scheme was operating as a strictly online service at this point and Ramona took on the challenge of getting to know a learner via a digital platform in her stride.

As a volunteer tutor, Ramona has supported both students of refugee and migrant backgrounds within the program.

She found it fascinating to discover more about the different cultures in areas that were really close to where she lives.

Ramona’s family is from Sri Lanka and was aware of “the Sri Lankan community in the east and south-east” but found it fascinating to learn that there was also a local South Korean community nearby.

Ramona was initially paired with a learner from Myanmar and was immediately conscious of making sure accurate and accessible Covid information was available to her in her native language.

This was something she saw as an “immediate need” in her community, though outside of this she also considered how to connect her students with other areas of interests.

Art lessons, exercise and help them to gain the confidence to participate in spaces not dominated by new arrivals.

Ramona always remained open to ideas of helping her students gain confidence using English in really practical ways – like role-playing parent-teacher interviews or asking her students to present on topics of interest to them and facilitating the opportunity to gain confidence using English.

Ramona also spoke about ‘drawing on her student’s hobbies and interests such as film making and both watching clips throughout the week to later discuss in a session together, a fun activity which worked well within the limitations of remote contact.

Post-Covid Ramona met with her second student in a local park and found appreciation for the spontaneity of conversation invited by face-to-face meetings.

But Ramona also said there was many challenges volunteering through Covid.

“I felt that while it was a hard period for all, some of the challenges for those from migrant and refugee background were amplified during the lockdown, “she said.

“But I was inspired by the resilience, adaptability and spirit of the learners and this is what kept me going.

Ramona’s message to those thinking about getting involved in volunteering is “having the opportunity to think of someone outside of yourself can set you free from your own anxieties in often uncertain times.”

“While giving up your time can seem like a hard decision, really, you get out of it what you put into it – perhaps even more” she said.

She believes your life will be richer for the experience.

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I’ve learnt to do zoom meetings with ease so that I can stay connected face to face which is so important in this lockdown when you live alone and when you have always been surrounded by people daily.

JULIENNE HYAMS

I’ve been a Business Manager in schools with the Education Department for twenty years. Of late I’ve been a relieving BM when a Primary or Secondary school Business Manager wishes to take long service leave or other long term leave to either travel overseas or for health issues like operations.

When C19 hit all my contracts were postponed/cancelled because the girls were not going overseas etc. therefore leaving me unemployed. I had been thinking of preparing to transition into retirement eventually with some volunteer work hence my enrolment with the Knox Volunteers.

Thank goodness I had as I am home on my own and have welcomed the courses and contact that I have been offered through volunteer for Knox.

The isolation of living on your own is possibly the hardest to deal with for me. I find myself talking to the walls now - something I would never ever have envisaged prior to March this year.

I am a people person - I love being around the energetic staff in schools and the students have a wonderful way of keeping you young.

I love the work I do in managing the administration side of a school so that teachers could do what they do best - I do admire them.

Which brings me to the teachers at Volunteer for Knox. They have saved my sanity of late.

The ladies of Knox are to be congratulated on their ability to include and welcome all participants no matter what our background so that we can fit in with ease and gain valuable knowledge and companionship during this testing time of which we know no end. 

I like the interaction with the people who come in and talking on the telephone. The staff are just fantastic!

Joan Impey

Joan Impey has lived in The Basin for more than 50 years. She has two adult children and when her husband passed away seven years ago she found herself living alone.

Joan worked at the Commonwealth Bank and decided to end her work journey and retire in 2018. When she initially retired, at first, she said: “I was happy to do nothing”.

But as time progressed, she noticed herself staying in bed longer and longer. After waking up and completing her usual routine, it would only be 10:30am. She questioned, “now what am I going to do with myself? How am I going to spend the rest of my life?”

Joan noticed herself watching more and more television, and essentially was becoming increasingly depressed. She even questioned if this was going to be what the rest of her lift looked like.

Joan was losing her social contacts and there would be days where she would speak to nobody.

She knew she had to do something, otherwise her life would continue on that repetitious and lonely downward spiral. Joan didn’t really know what to do, so she went online and started to research opportunities.

That’s where she finally found Volunteer for Knox. She filled out the application form online and attended an in-person induction which filled her in on all her rights and responsibilities as a volunteer. Still unsure about where she wanted to volunteer the team from Volunteer for Knox steered her in the right direction.

“I was at a loose end, I didn’t know if I wanted to go here or there,” she said. “It’s almost like going into a restaurant without looking at the menu.”

Joan noticed that administration and looking after young children appealed to her, and there was an opening at a local community house that suited her perfectly.

“I come here every Monday from 9am until 4pm, and you will not get me away from this place,” she said.

“I like the interaction with the people who come in and talking on the telephone. The staff are just fantastic!”

However, she began to notice that one day a week wasn’t enough. She needed something else to continue to give a sense of purpose. And again, with the help of Volunteer for Knox, she thought she’d express her interest in working with children.

Volunteer for Knox put Joan in touch with the co-ordinator of local kindergartens. Very soon she was scooped up after seeing the passion in her application, and has been there ever since for two mornings a week.

“The Volunteer for Knox staff were able to guide me by showing me the options and where I would be likely to find vacancies,” she said.

When Joan has to leave after her day is over at the kinder, some children say “you can’t go!” which makes her feel important, and valued. If they need her for extra days, she’s happy to go along to assist as she loves working with the centre and the staff.

“It’s made such a difference in my life,” Joan said.

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Volunteer for Knox has provided extra assistance and introduced many new and interesting people to our group.

Friends of Koolunga Reserve

Friends of Koolunga Reserve has been Volunteer for Knox’s most popular service in the past 12 months with 70 people expressing interest in roles as Environmental and Conservation Assistants.

Friends of Koolunga reserve are a group of volunteers who help to restore the bushland at the reserve, on Forest Road, in Ferntree Gully. They plant back local indigenous species (trees, shrubs, grasses, herbs, etc.) and remove weed species and work closely with Knox City Council.

Koolunga Native Reserve is owned by the City of Knox and is based at the bottom of the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges and the flora reflects that of the ranges and also the surrounding lowlands.

Koolunga was obtained by Knox Council in 1967 as a recreation reserve. The area had primarily been used as a daffodil farm, and by the locals as a rubbish dump along the creek. Daffodils still appear each year but the rubbish has largely been dealt with. The six hectare (15 acre) area of Koolunga now consists of some remnant bush land and areas of mown grass where orchids appear despite the previous intensive horticulture use.

In 1994, a Friends Group was established which has been active ever since.

The majority of volunteers expressing interest in the positions are aged in their 20’s and usually completing a university degree in environmental science or simply have an interest in the natural environment.

Friends of Koolunga Reserve registered with Volunteer for Knox in 2019.

They have six regular members who contribute at least two hours a month and three additional members who often contribute another 4-20 hours a month each.

Co-ordinator Moyra Farrington said many of the volunteers attend for short term projects but some have stayed on.

When the volunteers are referred from Volunteer for Knox they are asked to contact Moyra who welcomes them into the group and gives information about their activities and educates them about the local plants, birds, animals and specific projects.

“We plant, weed, take surveys of birds and wild life and engage closely with the local community via Facebook and run community events,” Moyra said.

“One of the biggest issues we face is getting volunteers to attend on a regular basis.

“Some are only available at times when it isn’t convenient for us to hold working bees.

“We have been operating for 25 years and have always tried to attract new volunteers and when Volunteer for Knox offered us assistance we gladly took it.

“Volunteer for Knox has provided extra assistance and introduced many new and interesting people to our group.

“Volunteers enable us to accomplish much more work in planting and weeding and generally maintaining our reserve. Most adapt quite quickly. The tasks aren’t complicated or too demanding.

“We love to welcome new volunteers and make the experience interesting, friendly and rewarding in learning new skills and try to give them the feeling that their efforts are very much appreciated.”

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I have found Volunteer for Knox staff very supportive, friendly, and keen to help in a professional manner. Nothing is ever a problem.

Margot Davies

The Australian Jazz Museum, incorporating the Victorian Jazz Archive, is located in Koomba Park, 15 Mountain Highway, Wantirna, Victoria. It is an Incorporated Association arising out of a meeting held in Sydney on 23 June 1996 to address the growing concern among the jazz community that the rich Australian jazz heritage was at risk of being lost. 

Their mission is to collect, exhibit, preserve and store on a permanent basis all material and memorabilia of whatever nature pertaining to jazz music, performed and/or composed by Australian musicians, covering the period from the 1920’s through to the present day.

Margot Davies is the Secretary and Recruitment Officer at the Australian Jazz Museum in Wantirna for nearly six years.

She grew up in Ivanhoe, with hardworking parents who were always involved in their community and childhood activities.

“My volunteer work has involved working at Meals on Wheels, the Jazz Museum and I’m also a member of Zonta International a women’s service club that works towards women’s rights and equality,” Margot said.       

“I volunteered at my son’s schools serving on a number of committees and now help out at my Grandkids school which I really love and being involved gives me a great deal of pleasure.

“I initially became a volunteer to keep busy.

“When I retired I knew I didn’t want to sit home. I wanted to do something with my time that meant something and I finally found the Jazz Museum where I have been for nearly six years.

“I’ve been Secretary and on the Committee of Management for the same period of time.

“I like to keep busy so I’m also in charge of recruiting and managing the volunteers.

“Social interaction is great and I really enjoy getting to know all the volunteers at the Museum.

“I’ve kept my skills up to date, learnt a lot more about jazz and it’s great to be part of something with a purpose.

“The Museum has up to date computer systems, and I’ve also learned to be open to new ideas that will help the museum be a world class Museum.

“I was made to feel like I could help the Museum out from the first interview.”

Margot said she had achieved her personal volunteer goals especially over the last six years.

“I love helping out. I feel I have contributed to the Museum and as a volunteer I am happy to turn my hand to anything that needs to be done,” Margot said.

“I’ve learned that the work being done is worthwhile and could not be achieved without volunteers.”

I have found Volunteer for Knox staff very supportive, friendly, and keen to help in a professional manner. Nothing is ever a problem.”

Margot has a message to people in the community thinking of volunteering.

“Give volunteering at try! You can make a difference, you can learn new skills and you can make friends along the way. Australia would not be the place it is without volunteers and age doesn’t matter!”

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She looks back and smiles at how she felt when she first arrived to how she feels now and contributes much of her confidence and security to the volunteer team of Mountain Gate.

AVA Fakhar

Ava came to Volunteer for Knox to find a placement where she would feel safe, secure, learn new skills and practice her English.

The 28-year-old and her husband emigrated from their home town of Isfahan, in Iran, in June 2018.

Ava describes Isfahan as a big traditional city, where tourists visit to view the local sights and infrastructure.

Ava holds a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering qualification and attends Deakin University to learn further skills and gain qualifications in data analysis.

She and her husband now have permanent resident visas in Australia. Her brother lives in Melbourne and her sister in Perth.

Her mother still resides in Iran and is a regular visitor to her “Australian family”

The secretary of the Mountain Gate Op Shop, Anne Abbott, met with Ava and agreed they would be a great match especially because she wanted to socialise, learn, give back to the community and feel welcomed and united in a team environment.

Ava lived locally and volunteered every Thursday from 9.30-4pm and did not miss one shift as it was her “happy day”.

Ava’s mother visited at Christmas where the amazing volunteers at Mountain Gate Op Shop extended a lovely welcome with a special lunch for Ava and her mother.

Before Ava and her husband immigrated they spent years learning English and it was mandatory for residence status that they both passed an English test.

She looks back and smiles at how she felt when she first arrived to how she feels now and contributes much of her confidence and security to the volunteer team of Mountain Gate.

Ava highly recommends volunteering for socialisation and she feels it is purposeful, giving something back to the community and is happy the funds from the Mountain Gate Op shop goes to families with the greatest of needs.

Ava has learned new skills in communication, organisational skills, customer service and gained a greater self-confidence.”

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We are told that William's overall life happiness has increased and Scoresby's workload has decreased with William on board.

William

William, 20, was looking for a new challenge and interest in his life after completing studies. He lives with Muscular Dystrophy and relies on a wheelchair for mobility purposes but was looking to join a sporting service as his passions are football and rugby.

After a little bit of behind the scenes work with Volunteer for Knox and Knox City Council sporting services, Scoresby Football Club was contacted.

From there William and Scoresby Football Club have ventured on with an excellent outcome. William is involved with ticket sales and drinks at break times and is a keen participant around the club. We are told that William's overall life happiness has increased and Scoresby's workload has decreased with William on board. He even got to meet footy legend Kevin Sheedy at a club lunch!

A win win for everyone involved.

After three months working at Orana, Margaret was offered a 12 hour a week paid position as a casual Administrator, which then became a permanent part-time position.

Margaret

Margaret came to Volunteer for Knox with a 38 year career in the clothing industry. She had done everything from working in the warehouse to customer service to becoming a Personal Assistant. With a range of transferable skills and knowledge she was able to move around the industry, plying her trade to other places in the field.

Margaret finished her last job and took a well-earned rest before deciding what she wanted to do with her future.  Understandably she no longer wanted to work full time, though part-time work had its appeal. Now considered unemployed, with a Centrelink requirement of 15 hours’ voluntary work, she approached the Volunteer for Knox team and attended an induction. Her skills were matched with the Orana Community House in Wantirna South, who were in need of a receptionist. Knowing she had skills to offer she looked forward to applying them to a new role, different to what had once been familiar.

“I thought volunteering in the community would be a good place to start,” she said, as she settled in to the reception desk at Orana. Two weeks later, Coonara Community House in Upper Ferntree Gully were also in need of reception support and through Volunteer for Knox she was offered a position there as well. After three months working at Orana, Margaret was offered a 12 hour a week paid position as a casual Administrator, which then became a permanent part-time position.

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Graham said it’s a feel good role and he is enjoying the company of younger people and the diversity of personalities.

Graham

Graham, 60, decided it was time to retire and found that he had a lot more spare time on his hands. He approached Volunteer for Knox and attended a monthly induction/information session. Graham had worked as a shop fitter/builder. 

A volunteer opportunity arose for Graham and he is now volunteering two days a week in a landscaping/building maintenance/grounds improvement program. This program was specifically designed to train long term unemployed clients in specific skill sets to add to their CV’s and assist in finding permanent employment.

Graham has found this volunteer role exceptionally rewarding. It’s company for him and provides company and socialisation for the clients. They are achieving marvellous things together and making plans grow before their eyes. Graham said it’s a feel good role and he is enjoying the company of younger people and the diversity of personalities. He also enjoys watching others achieve and learning new skills himself. He drives seven minutes from home and looks forwards to his Wednesdays and Thursdays. So much so, he has encouraged his wife to apply for a volunteering position with Volunteer for Knox too.